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Exeter's societies struggle with new barcode system

11th October 2011
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It’s the end of Fresher’s week, and across the country hundreds of activities fairs are being held: exam halls and gymnasiums on university campuses are packed full of groups trying to entice students both new and old to sign up and give support to their society above all others.

Usually this involves frantic exchanges of grubby coins and crumpled notes, with queues for cash points stretching back for miles. This year the University of Exeter brought in a new system in an attempt to make it easier to sign up to societies, avoiding congestion at stalls and banks.

The system consisted of each society being given a unique barcode, which they then gave to potential members. The students then would go to tills placed around campus, pay for the barcodes they had collected throughout the day and that would be that.

Predictably the system began to collapse before it had even begun; many societies promise discount cards and stash to new members in an attempt to recruit more students, which could not be given until there was some kind of proof that the students had paid for their society membership. This resulted in students having to return to society stalls clutching a sweaty receipt to collect their freebies, adding another leg of the journey through the crowd to try and sign up to a society.

Unsurprisingly the tills crashed multiple times throughout the day, resulting in vast queues snaking around the entire fair that were far longer than any for an ATM the previous year. On top of this most of these tills only took cash payment, so queues at cash points sprung up anyway.  Societies found that a huge gap appeared between the number of students who took a barcode and those who actually stuck out the queue to pay for membership.

Rapidly a system was set up so students could pay for their memberships online, but I wonder how many people forgot to sign up to every society they thought looked good the weekend before? It means that societies worked hard in a sweltering room for six hours with barely any sign-ups; even the most popular societies such as the media groups, or the free society R.A.G. only gained a fraction of the sign-ups from previous years.

Whilst students and society heads have unanimously condemned the new system, called “ridiculous”, “absurd” and “an abject failure” variously, the University claim that 2011 has seen a record number of sign ups, possibly due to a rise in the number of students at Exeter. Small societies called an emergency meeting with the Guild after the fair, arguing that the barcode system resulted in membership levels below 25 – the minimum required by the Guild. The Guild issued a full apology and reassured societies that even those with fewer than 25 members will not be shut down.

James Fox, VP Participation and Campuses for the Guild, said: “Obviously, with a new system, there will be some issues and we can only apologise for this. There will be a full review which all societies are encouraged to contribute to in order to ensure we make next year's event even better.”




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